Protests planned in London between 21 August and 4 September are highly likely to be disruptive.
This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly's Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 2 August 2021.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) has called for a series of demonstrations, which will probably attract several thousand people. They are also calling for direct actions against businesses, particularly in the financial sector. Based on our monitoring of XR’s messaging, activists will probably try to occupy buildings and carry out acts of vandalism. But there are currently few signs that the group will be able to consistently maintain similarly high turnouts in the long term.
The stated objective of the XR Impossible Rebellion campaign from 23 August is to ‘disrupt the City of London’. This is in line with a broader anti-capitalist and anti-establishment agenda that the group has adopted in recent months. XR appears to be focused on widening its support base, including by co-opting people involved in activist movements such as Black Lives Matter and Kill the Bill. XR has called for its supporters to join protests organised by other groups, such as a march against a draft police bill planned on 21 August.
The latest XR Action Strategy published in June called for at least 10,000 people to join the protest and for 1,500 people to ‘risk arrest’. There is limited recent precedent to determine whether this turnout is realistic. But the group seems to have maintained some traction even when Covid-19 lockdown measures were in place, by organising several online campaigns. Several thousand people joined an XR march in London on 26 June. Following the lifting of most Covid-19 restrictions, some of the upcoming protests will probably be as big – if not larger – than that in June.
XR intends to target financial institutions such as banks during this campaign, and has specified that it will focus on those actors it sees as investing in fossil fuels. The group has not yet shared specific names but based on their objectives and precedent, it seems highly likely that they will target banks’ headquarters and branches, as well as investment and insurance companies based in the City.
Activists are also likely to engage in disruptive actions and vandalism from 23 August. Previous actions against banks also suggest that activists will attempt to break windows or glue themselves to branches and other sites.
The upcoming campaign appears to further suggest that the group is again seeking to build a mass movement rather than solely carrying out sporadic direct actions. It is particularly focused on COP26 in Glasgow in November. That said, although the environment is among the top three issues for the UK public according to the latest YouGov poll data, it still is at least 15% below health and the economy. With socio-economic issues related to the recovery from Covid-19 likely to catalyse public attention in the coming months, we doubt that the group will succeed at maintaining momentum in 2022.
Image: Extinction Rebellion activists march in London on 27 June 2021 in London, England (Photo by Rob Pinney/Getty Images).